The world of life insurance in the days before the 1929 stock market crash don't jump to mind as typical comedy material, but tackling the unusual has always been on Four Humors' docket. After all, this is the group that, earlier this year, gave us a rock musical exploration of the romantic poets (Age of Wordsworth) and took a James Bond spoof You Only Live Forever Once to a pair of summer Fringe festivals.
The group's latest venture, The Extraordinary Terms of an Ordinary Life, opens tomorrow at the Loring Theater. Co-creator Ryan Lear directs the production. He crafted the script with Matt Spring, whose past work includes Welcome to Dystopia and Live Action Set's Ivey Award-winning The 7-Shot Symphony.
City Pages: How the idea for the show came together?
Ryan Lear: The initial idea came last year when I was in Plainsview doing a show at the Jon Hassler Theater. I was spending some time between shows at a local garage sale, and stumbled upon some old life insurance company training manuals from the spring of 1929, which contained mock sales scripts for instructing new salesmen. They struck me because they were written in a disarmingly optimistic tone considering what was about that happen to the stock market later that fall.
I immediately began thinking about the similarities to modern financial institutions having the same "irrational exuberance" and new, complicated financial products that brought about the current financial crisis. The financial world we know today was really born out of the events of the 1920s. Corporations were just learning how to develop and train a sales force and many of the financial institutions we know today didn't exist yet, including FDIC, Securities and Exchange Commission, Social Security, and others.
So, even though it was this strange new world where automobiles and talking pictures were still very new, human nature being what it is, we see greed and speculation leading to the same problems we're experiencing today. The financial reforms of the Depression were meant to prevent it from ever happening again, yet here we are 80 years later in a similar predicament.
Are you trying to say something about the modern world, just trying to do a comedy, or a bit of both?
I would say that Four Humors never tries to "just do a comedy." Yes this show is going to be funny, but that's only because our company is always going to try and find the humor in any narrative. I would also say that we never try to bludgeon people to death with a didactic moral. This show definitely says something about the similarities of yesterday and today, but in the end it's about very human characters and their emotions in a tumultuous time. We're always looking to tell a compelling story with very honest, accessible characters. Comedic Theater is our medium, but it doesn't mean we approach our subject matter any less seriously.
Why should audiences pick your show out of a crowded lineup?
There's a lot of exciting, independent theater going on right now in the Twin Cities, and I would encourage everyone to go see as much of it as they can. I think we're very lucky to have such a vibrant and high caliber independent theater community here, and I wish that more people would simply throw away their canned media and start buying their entertainment locally.
Four Humors has a successful history of presenting a wide array of engaging and innovative original works that captivate audiences with their honesty, creativity, and comedy. Whether you want to see an smart, exciting, and fast-paced show that comments on the human condition, or just want to be entertained and enjoy a few laughs with friends, I think you'll find what you're looking for with this production.